‘I came to crime fiction by accident,’ says Steve Mosby, one of several guest speakers at Curtis Brown Creative’s Crime-Writing Weekend. ‘I grew up reading horror and science fiction: Dean Koontz and Stephen King were among my favourites, and I tried to write like them.’
How his writing changed over time, making him a multi award-winning as well as a bestselling author, will no doubt be top of the list of questions students can pose on Saturday 10 November. CBC’s course, for writers who have embarked on a crime novel, features tuition by Meg Gardiner, whose two successful series of crime novels have been publicly applauded by Stephen King, Jeffery Deaver and Tess Gerritsen. On Sunday, Orion’s Deputy Publishing Director Bill Massey and Curtis Brown literary agent Gordon Wise will draw on their industry experience to talk about the publishing in the crime fiction genre.
Steve sketched the broad outlines of his career for me over the phone. Steve is the author of six bestselling crime novels published by Orion: The Third Person, The Cutting Crew, The 50/50 Killer, Cry for Help, Still Bleeding and Black Flowers, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Steve’s most recent novel is Dark Room (Orion, July 2012).
He remembers, early in his career, discovering Mike Marshall Smith and Graham Joyce, and a whole set of writers who mixed genres together into odd shapes. ‘So when I started writing for publication, I was attempting to create this weird conglomeration of different things,’ he says. ‘It was a complete accident that the publisher who took on my first book was running a crime promotion at just that time and, after that, they naturally enough wanted me to carry on in a crime vein.’
Does he feel this pigeon-holed him? ‘Not particularly: in fact the best advice I ever received as a writer was from John Connolly, who writes quite fantastical crime fiction. He said, whatever genres you include in your fiction, if you can get published as crime, get published as crime, because that’s the genre with the most exposure in the bookshops, the most tolerance from the critics, the best sales.
‘Crime fiction has a little bit more furniture to move around than other genres,’ Steve explains. ‘There are sub-genres that come with their own expectations. But as with any genre, if you’re canny, you can trespass into strange territory. Crime and horror go together very well, which suits me down to the ground, of course, because I’m drawn to darker material. It doesn’t always work that way, however. If you include science fiction elements, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be published as an SF author. So though I’m not particularly interested in the whole self-promotion side – I’d rather concentrate on the writing to be honest – I do think crime writers have to think a little bit about what their readers expect, and how far you can take them. Because crime sells, commercial considerations come in fairly quickly. The bad guy pretty much always has to get caught in the end. Some of my work reaches for a bleaker, more horrific climax, and the publisher has said, “Please, could we have just a little glimpse of light here?”.’
Steve thinks the crime genre has a lot to offer writers generally, whether they end up writing in the genre or not. ‘Traditionally, crime is supposed to excel at social realism,’ he says. ‘I’m sure that’s true, though its not a particular strength or interest of mine. Psychological realism is another strength, and it can’t easily be separated from the strong narrative you need to make crime work. You need the reader to be turning the pages and, for that, your characters need to be hurtling through the pages of their own lives.’
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