People ask me about this a lot when I first tell them that I am a crime fiction writer.
‘Why do you write crime fiction?’
For a long while I didn’t know the answer.
I used to think back to my childhood when I would quite happily watch action films and TV programmes, and run around my living room with a bow and arrow or a sword and pretend to fight alongside my favourite characters like Robin Hood.
Did that have some bearing on it?
Am I secretly quite a violent person?
No, that wasn’t it. I thought about it a little more and took a good long hard look at my character.
I’m the type of person who, like a lot of writers, is very unassuming and likes to blend into the background, particularly around a lot of people I don’t know. I like to watch people and work out who they are before I engage in any real conversation with them – I like to piece them together like a puzzle until I have worked out exactly what type of person they are…
Is that it?
It took a lot of thought on my part and a little research before I finally came across the answer, or at least what I think is the answer.
Whilst reading an essay by Anthony Horowitz about his approach to recreating Sherlock Holmes in his novel, The House of Silk, he made an interesting point about why people love reading and writing crime fiction. His idea is that there is something uniquely revealing about people’s characters when they are put in dangerous or unbelievable situations. People who might otherwise be perfect people of good standing might behave in peculiar or suspicious circumstances the moment a dead body comes in to play.
I got thinking about this in my own life and realised that actually, when there is even the remotest chance I might get accused of something, my behaviour does completely change. And I think it is the same for all people.
How many of you get nervous when there is a police car driving behind you?
I’m willing to bet a fair amount. You’ve done nothing wrong. The car is yours, the tax is all up to date, you’re not speeding, your tyres aren’t lacking in tread…
And yet, if you put a police car behind you, you instantly become a nervous wreck, convinced that you’re about to be found out… Even if there is nothing to be found out about.
In the role of crime fiction, the detective (or journalist or whoever) is tasked with seeing through this sea of nervous characters to find the truth. Some of the characters may be hiding something that is completely unrelated to the crime in question. Others may be willing to pass on blame out the sheer fear that they themselves may be implicated. And hidden somewhere in amongst these scared and confused people is a murderer. Or a thief. Or a blackmailer.
Crime fiction gives you a wealth of opportunity to investigate the very worst traits in what might otherwise be good people. Your murderer might be a scorned woman, or a man who has been bullied his whole life. The evil that our detective is chasing might be an all-knowing criminal mastermind, or the best of people who, in one awful moment, has just done something horribly bad.
By writing crime fiction, I can create black and white characters and tear them apart, creating brilliant and, undeniably, human personas. With a single death, I can examine how a good person turns bad, or how a bad person turns good. I can cover my characters with layers of lies, deceit and half-truths and then, over the course of a story, slowly peel these back to reveal the complex relationships beneath.
That for me, is why a write crime fiction stories. I like to create complicated and believable characters and put them under the microscope to reveal things that I could never hope to reveal in another genre. I like to watch my simple mystery story evolve until it has become a character-driven tale that leaves you breathless at the end of it.
That is the goal. That is the answer to the question of why I write crime fiction.
But, for the sake of simplicity, the answer I normally give is this.
Because I love it.