Wednesday 12 March 2008

Where the Crime Women At?

Declan Burke, that wily evil genius over at Crime Always Pays, threw me a scrap from his table earlier today and posted a link to CSNI on his latest entry. So I thought I should post a new article, lest new visitors think I’ve abandoned this project already. After minimal thought, I figured I’d share some things I learned at a literary discussion held at the Linenhall Library back in January. A little late to be writing about it now, I know, but I didn’t have this blog back then, did I?

Anyway, this was a discussion on crime fiction featuring guest speakers Jane Gregory (Gregory and Company Authors’ Agents) and Maria Rejt (Publishing Director of Macmillan, Pan, Picador and Macmillan New Writing). They’re responsible for the success of Minette Walters and Mo Hayder among many others.

The prestigious guest speakers offered the gathered wannabe writers advice on how to snag an agent and/or publishing deal. This mostly boiled down to advising the writer to read the submission guidelines set out by a publisher and sticking to them. Almost every talk aimed at new writers I’ve attended starts with this piece of advice, so I’d say it’s pretty important.

They discussed the importance of reading the new stuff out there. And you know, I’m all for that. And during that segment, Brian McGilloway got a mention. The Derry man impressed them so much they invited him to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

I enjoyed their industry stories, which included how much Minette Walters was paid for her first novel and how she never forgave Maria Rejt for the offer, and how it pained Colin Dexter to lose two superfluous paragraphs in one of his Morse mysteries which described a flock of pigeons fluttering about. It was nice to see a human and humorous side to the publishing world.

Here’s one of the points of discussion that I remember most. They talked about the “asexualisation” of crime writers. Apparently it’s a fact that 80% of crime novels are bought by women. And although that 80% are more likely to give a male author a chance than the 20% of us barbaric males are to give female writers a chance, female writers are more likely to enjoy success in the genre than their male counterparts. And so, a lot of male writers are choosing to go with non-gender identifying initials. Examples include, KT McCafferty, CJ Sansom and most recently DB Shan. Interesting, n’est pas?

Okay. These charming ladies know their stuff, so I’ll accept that statistic. But something doesn’t quite tally. These last few weeks I’ve been trawling the internet in search of lady Northern Irish crime writers to add to my list of links. I can’t find any! None. Are they out there? If so, I apologise for my deficient googling skills and will appreciate correction from any source. But if not, I guess we will have to groom one of these chick-lit dudettes and convince them to up the bodycount in their work.

Who’s with me?


colman said...

alright it's not ADRIANNA McKINTY but does he not get a look in?

call me a sexist but for some reason when I buy a book I seem to have an aversion to female writers, how can you write properly and still operate the hoover? only joking!

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian McKinty now officially gets a look in. Thank you for the nudge. I'll add him to the link list.

And thank you for being the first to comment on the CSNI blog!

Like you, I've gravitated to male writers for most of my reading life. But now that I'm aware of the fact, I plan to fix it. I've just bought some Val McDermid. I hear she's quite good.


colman said...

No probs, I got diverted here from that fiendish Sligo numpty's site.

I'll hold my hands up and say my main experience of NI crime has been Mr Bateman,
I laughed like a drain with his Curley Bap...I think it was in either Divorcing Jack or Cycle of Violence,I cant remember which.
He nearly lost me with Maid of the Mist which bored me, but I need to pick him up again soon.
I bought my son one of his books for younger readers, but I cant recall the title.

McKinty on the TBR pile, sadly as yet untouched.

Got a few McDermids on the pile also, as well as Sara Gran in a bid to cure my gender aversion,


Gerard Brennan said...

Ah, the "Sligo numpty" has his uses then.

The perm featured in Cycle of Violence, AKA Crossmaheart.

If you're getting back on the Bateman wagon, why not pick up the latest one? Orpheus Rising sounds like it'll be pretty good. Or even Of Wee Sweetie Mice and Men. It's the second Starkey novel, and a cracker.

Let me know what you think of McKinty.


Brian McGilloway said...

Hi Gerard

Congratulations on the blog and good luck with it. Nice to see the Northern Irish contingent making their mark. On your topic - Ian Rankin claimed a few months back that women crime writers were more blood thirsty than men in their novels. He may also have made a comment about lesbian crime writers being blodthirstier still, if I'm not misquoting him. Food for thought - if not a little sexist!

Gerard Brennan said...

Hiya Brian

Thanks a million for stopping by. This thing's barely got going, and already look at the attention it's attracting!

On your (and Ian Rankin's) point -- one or both of the guest speakers made that remark too. Well, not the lesbian part, but they did say that women crime writers were gorier, and that they got away with it because they're perceived as the least violent of the sexes. I'm not convinced that they're any less violent, to be honest, but what do I know?


Peter Rozovsky said...

That's an interesting bit about non-sex-specific initials. I assumed until I knew better that C.J. Sansom was a woman, perhaps because I had the idea that women tended more toward historical crime fiction than men did.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Gerard Brennan said...

Hi Peter

Thanks very much for stopping by.

I know what you mean. I had one of those, "Ah, so that's why..." moments after they made that point.


Anonymous said...

Ya wanna talk Gore? Val McDermid is one of those playground girls who gnashes away on the bugs and worms that all the boys were daring each other to touch. I read The Mermaids Singing a year or two back and have been too freaked out to walk her way again. I heard that those fellas who run Guantanamo called her in for a few pointers on torture. Or maybe I just made that up.

Any chance of elaboration on Minette Waters and the Neverending Grievance? Now that you've got my interest all peaked.

Dossing on the lunch hour,


Karen (Euro Crime) said...

Well I've got SJ/Sarah Michaels on my list but I'm sure I'm missing some other names on there.

Declan Burke said...

A Sligo Numpty speaks: Adrian McKinty is the dog's proverbials. And he's just written a new one for Holt, so brace yourselves. For Norn Iron women crime writers, try Ingrid Black -
Cheers, Numpty

Gerard Brennan said...


Dear God, now I'm afraid to crack open the McDermid paperback. I'll have to psyche myself up with a few Korean horror flicks over the next few weeks before tackling it.

RE Minette Waters, She was picked up by the esteemed agent Ms Gregory after spending a year in abject poverty, focussing all of her time on that first novel. Aforementioned agent brought the manuscript to a new publishing hotshot by the name of Ms Rejt. Ms Rejt offered £1200 for the novel that MW poured her heart and soul into, practically starved for. After a quick calculation, MW figured that if she'd spent the time she'd put into the book as a cleaner, she'd have made five or so times as much. But she took the offer.

And she's not short of a few bob now, though she still brings up that amount at her inspirational talks.


Gerard Brennan said...


Excellent job! Thank you for letting me know about Ms Michaels. I'll track her down asap.


Gerard Brennan said...

Num... I mean, Mr Burke

Another fine set of tips. I am most grateful. But I'm watching you... don't try anything funny.

I'll get my hands on some McKinty and Black ASAP.


Anonymous said...

Gerard, I don't think you could get two better industry insiders than Jane Gregory and Maria Rejt at a discussion on crime fiction!

In respect of author names, the comment might explain why Jack Kerley is experiencing a rebranding as 'J.A Kerley' in the UK. The comments on the home page of his website managed to elicit a smile on my face: 'Blood Brother is due out in summer of 2008 in the UK … stayed [sic] tuned for US publication details. And yes, the author’s name for the UK has been changed to J. A. Kerley (reflecting my “official” name, John Albert Kerley). It was a marketing decision, I am told, and as I spent over twenty-five years in advertising and marketing, amuses me no end.'

I've had a crime fiction blog for nearly three years now and it's allowed me to focus on my reading. I am aware that in the last two years I've read more debuting male crime fiction authors than female. Perhaps men are finally gathering for the party? But even with some very impressive male authors leading in the genre, women are there in abundance.

As an aside, there was an article in the UK Times back in the mid-90s which asserted that 70% of crime fiction was bought by women in the ABC1 category. It's interesting that even more women are drawn to the genre after a decade.

Minette Walters's first novel 'The Ice House' was a remarkable success and I'm sure her roylaties have far exceeded her original advance by now. A first print first hard back edition is rare and at the Hay Festival in 2004 she noted that it was selling second hand at near £1,000. She also mentioned that when she saw the cover she urged the publisher to change it, due to, if I remember correctly, it being impossible (because of the story) to have a particular two characters together on the cover. The covers were culled and a new one used. However, she had learned that 2 of the original had slipped the net and these managed twice the price in the second hand market, then lamenting the fact (with some humour) that she got no roylaties on such sales...

Brian McG is right about the Rankin quote. He was interviewed by Danuta Kean for The Independent on Sunday and she features the interview on her site here:
It caused some controversy at the time and later at the Edinburgh Festival last year, when Val McDermid took him to task on the issue - as covered in a Guardian interview with her during the festival.

I don't think I agree with the generalisation, apart from the fact that I agree with some authors' comments on a panel at a previous Harrogate Crime Festival: women have more leeway to write about violence as they suffer more (and broader aspects) in terms of violence directed against them; they know what it is to be a victim. Men, apparently, will recoil from depicting such scenes of violence and leave it to the readers' imaginations. Having read an interview with Mo Hayder recently, I could expand on this with a cultural hypothesis (dear God, I sound so bloody serious here!), but I won't right now. I'll ponder some more.

But really Gerard, you had a treat with that crime fiction discussion and my thanks to you for bringing it to us via the net and your blog. It's so good to have up to date information. What a great blog and keep up the excellent work! I look forward to reading more. Much more. The Sligo Numpty has set you off in the right direction...

Best wishes.

Gerard Brennan said...

Hiya Rhian

Hope you're feeling better. Sorry it took so long to respond to this comment, but I was... well, reading it.

Seriously though, some cracking points here. I'm thinking maybe we could modify it a little and use it as a follow-up post? Seems a shame to let all this info sit as a comment that might slip under a lot of radars.

Chat to you later.