I was a bit worried last week with the Beast from the East – would it stop First Monday Crime? Thankfully, the temperature rose and the snow disappeared completely. In fact, it almost felt spring-like. There was also a very warm welcome in the room to the panel – Matthew Blakstad, Sarah Vaughan, Elly Griffiths and Stav Sherez. Jake Kerridge was there to ask the questions.
First to talk about his latest book was Matthew Blakstad. Lucky Ghost is the follow-up to Sockpuppet. Matthew’s novels look at the role of technology in our lives and they’ve been compared to the TV series Black Mirror. The latest book focuses on gaming. Players wear a ‘mesh’ to take part and earn Emoticoins for positive interactions with each other. Although the novels are set in the near future, Matthew is looking at how our lives today are bonded with technology and in particular, social media. We often create happy images of ourselves to post online which may be contrary to how we’re actually feeling. Projecting a false happy image makes us vulnerable. But this can happen as a nation as well as an individual. Remember 2016? As Matthew pointed out, as a nation, we felt collectively that it was the worst year ever (little did we know!). Collective emotion can then be manipulated. But will it be for good or for bad?
Sarah Vaughan used to be the political correspondent for the Guardian. Anatomy of a Scandal was published in January and quite a few reviews have mentioned that it’s ‘timely’. Sarah thought this was quite ironic as she had written and sold the book a whole year before the Weinstein allegations and Westminster scandals. In fact, she first had the idea for the book in November 2013 when talking with friends about consent in relation to a footballer who was appealing against his conviction for rape. She then had a really vivid dream where she dreamt the whole plot (how amazing is that?). For her though, the book is also about entitlement – the toxic male – and political wives. Loving a man who’s been accused and then having to stand by him publicly, whatever you might privately think. Sarah didn’t set out to write a marriage thriller or a domestic noir, though she consciously tried to write something gripping. For her, writing crime is about exploring the grey – so a rape in a relationship that has been consensual but might not be at that moment – rather than the black and white.
Elly Griffiths’ new book, The Dark Angel, is her tenth novel in her Dr Ruth Galloway series. Poor old Ruth has been working hard in Norfolk for the last nine books so Elly has allowed her to go on holiday! Although it’s a working holiday. Friend and fellow archaeologist, Dr Angelo Morelli, has found some ancient bones in Italy and asks Ruth for help. In case this might seem a bit odd to you, Elly’s real name is Domenica De Rosa. So setting a book in Italy is great for her. She originally wrote women’s fiction under Domenica De Rosa but it was deemed unsuitable for Crime. So the pen name has actually come from her grandmother, Ellen Griffiths. As well as writing the Ruth Galloway books, she also writes the Stephens and Mephisto series set in Brighton in the 1950s. Her first standalone will be out in November. Elly said that it was quite different to write a book that had a clear and definite ending.
Following the technology theme, Stav Sherez’s latest book in his Carrigan & Miller series is The Intrusions. Jake Kerridge warned us that we would want to buy some Blu-Tak after reading the book (I think it may be something to do with webcams) and as Jake said, ‘What tech gives with one hand, it takes away with the other’. Carrigan & Miller deal with a suspected abduction that takes them into the world of cyber-stalking and obsession at a new level. This is the third novel in the series and Stav likes to invest in the inner and outer lives of his police officers. He wants to see how they change over the course of time and how they’re affected by the job and what they see because of it, as well as their private lives. Police officers have the same problems as the rest of us e.g. illness, bereavement, divorce etc. For Stav (and probably most writers), everything he writes is both fictional and autobiographical. Real small arguments can be turned into big divisions in fiction. Personal tragedies can be turned into art and maybe help others in the process. When talking about technology and the trouble it causes, Stav mentioned what happened last time there was a communication revolution. The invention of the printing press meant that during the Reformation, mass pamphlets could be printed and people’s views could be expressed and shared with many people. A bit like Twitter! And of course, when suddenly everyone can express their varied opinions and beliefs, society changes and can collapse.
After talking about their books, Jake Kerridge raised the thorny issue of The Staunch Prize. If you haven’t heard about it, this is a proposed prize for a novel that doesn’t include violence against women in the storyline. It’s had a mixed reception in the Crime genre, as you might have seen on Twitter or in newspaper articles. Jake asked the panel their views on the subject. (I checked with the authors afterwards to make sure they were happy for me to share their comments. I’ve also updated comments to make sure I had an accurate account of what was said).
Matthew Blakstad is always really conscious about what he writes. It’s not his aim to titillate. However, Crime fiction is about darkness. Personally, he’s more concerned about video games where people virtually kill and harm others and thinks this is more of an influence, especially with young people.
Sarah Vaughan initially felt a bit defensive when she first heard about the prize as her book is about a rape case. In writing about a rape trial, she was concerned that nothing would seem gratuitous or titillating: her main focus was (as mentioned above) exploring the issue of consent. Before she wrote her novel, she shadowed a barrister in a rape trial and separate sexual offences case. For her it was important to get the language of the trial correct and to reveal the details of the rape in that way. The words used are sufficiently graphic but we don’t witness it: it’s recounted. Sexual violence against women is an unfortunate fact of life but the Staunch prize risks demonising all portrayals. She’s had positive comments from women who’ve been in that situation and felt she captured their experience realistically.
Elly Griffiths said that the prize possibly comes from a good place i.e. thinking carefully about what to write but a better way to look at it is by writing a good and balanced book. Intelligent discussion is needed.
Stav Sherez pointed out that fiction has to deal with the bad stuff. Real life is really horrible and this needs to be reflected. In some respects TV and film are more problematic as they leave nothing to the imagination. We’re not going to get away from these issues by silencing them.
As I’ve written these notes up, I’ve remembered something that Stav Sherez said at ChipLit last year. He said that for most readers, crime fiction is not about violence but justice. Personally I think he’s right. Crime fiction often gives us the justice we don’t see in the real world.
To find out more about the authors and buy their books –
For Matthew Blakstad click here
For Sarah Vaughan click here
For Elly Griffiths click here
For Stav Sherez click here
NOW, IMPORTANT NEWS!!!!!
Next month, things get a bit topsy-turvy. Technically, there is no First Monday Crime but in fact Second Monday Crime and Fifth Monday Crime. What, I hear you cry! It’s those pesky but much wanted Bank Holidays that are causing a few problems. So April First Monday will be on 9th April and May First Monday will be 30th April. Hopefully we’ll be back to normal for June!
I’ve had a sneak preview for the guests for April but my lips are sealed. All I’m saying is that you won’t want to miss it, not least because it’s also First Monday Crime’s second birthday. There may be cookies.
You can book you place here.