Over the week-end my local writers group, ‘Ballarat Writers Inc.’ held a festival of women’s crime writing with the fabulous ‘Sisters in Crime’. And what a rousing and fantastic time we had. We were treated to an amazing line up of talent, skill and knowledge from these published authors. They were a feisty group of super intelligent women.
I always think of ‘crime writing’ as a tough and strategic craft. I have no head for it, except I do like reading it. One thing’s for sure though, I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to write crime fiction. It seems to me that there’s a place in my psyche where I can’t quite go, a scared, whimpering place. So, even if I braved up and decided to start writing a crime novel, I think this is how it would sort of go…
…I would probably have my victim talk sensibly to the vicious murderer as he pulls a rope tight against her thin neck. He would hesitate as he hears her words of calm, then back away and suddenly collapse to the floor in a sobbing heap and beg forgiveness. His journey would then be to discover why he almost committed murder…that would be five hundred words into the first chapter…no murder, no plot, just a broken, sad person. I would have to invent a full psychological story for this sobbing wreck at my victim’s feet… I could never let him murder her… You see, I’m such a wimp.
So, you might be able to understand why I was so impressed by the brave, laughing, down to earth, ‘say it how it is’ bunch of women at our Festival at the week-end. These woman intrigued me and had me thinking about how they managed to write about life’s tough issues, the grimy, grisly, revolting stuff, and yet, not only stay in tact but laugh, joke and appear so grounded?
The other bit of thinking that has entertained me over the last forty-eight hours is about writing from the perspective of a particular genre. Let alone the gender perspective that I could go on and on about…but I won’t, well not for long, I promise. We all know (don’t we?) that women have been long-suffering in their quest for recognition as writers compared to men. For centuries women have not been taken seriously in the writing field, nothing new, it’s occurred in all sectors and professions and still does in some ways. Now I don’t want to turn this into a rant about how badly women are treated in the arts because I actually don’t think that would be helpful.
So back to writing in a particular genre. Does one start out to do so or does this happen along the way. How difficult is it to swap between genre’s after initial success. Recently, I heard a well-known published woman author speak to this issue. A crime fiction writer but not exclusively, the women spoke of the struggle to find publishers when she changes between genre. Rather than a book series or follow ups from a popular novel this author, it appears, follows her own intuition and direction which may or may not be crime writing when starting a new piece of work. This she indicates, makes her publishing life more difficult. It seems publishers box writers into categories and so they become very influential in what a writer actually writes. That is, unless the writer decides to take the risk of not complying, then I guess they suffer the disadvantages. And, the consequences can be to find another publisher…and we all know how hard it is on that journey…!
On the other hand I guess, writing in a style or in territory that a writer has previously explored and written perhaps makes for work that is polished and has depth…of course some might argue that it can become forced and formulated. I am posing questions in dangerous territory now because I really know very little about genre writing. But a couple of days ago, when listening to these women who appear to have such a strong committment and success in the area of crime writing, I came away with more questions than answers.
I guess that when people begin to write they gravitate to a natural space and focus that fits with their experience and psychological framework. Some people write what they know and understand well whilst others writers perhaps, write to discover what they want to know and understand. So I guess that writing in a particular genre may not necessarily be a conscious choice at all. So I wonder if some of the conditions that are necessary to write well within a particular framework may depend on the authors pre-disposed personality and life conditioning? Why is it that one person writes predominately from a historical perspective whilst someone else might write romance or crime?
And so, back to my sobbing prospective murderer. …This forty nine-year old has never had a chance in life…he changed schools ten times in five years, his mother died on his ninth birthday and his alcoholic father neglected him and his three siblings…the welfare stepped in and the abuse was perpetual…
Now I could engage with this story and possibly develop it. What I had to do however was take this narrative out of the suspense and action space and move it to a platform that I could deal with. There would have been little chance of me letting him kill the victim and then establishing a story around it. And yet, I suspect that if I could have created a murder scene then maybe I would be on my way to being able to write crime fiction…don’t hold your breath.