Psychology and Crime: Val McDermid in conversation with Michael Rowbotham

TheSkeletonRoadLife or death


Last night I went to the Eternity Theatre in Darlinghurst to hear Val McDermid speak with Michael Rowbotham about writing crime novels. I like crime fiction but don’t seem to reach much of it these days but I love Dr Tony Hill, Val McDermid’s fictional clinical psychologist from Wire in the Blood.

It was a very entertaining hour and a half listening to Val talk about everything from the Scottish referendum to the problems of dealing with character’s pets across a series. She spoke for a good 20 minutes on the Scottish referendum (she was in the ‘yes’ camp). She referred to David Cameron’s comment that he would be ‘heartbroken’ if Scotland voted yes as being a very good reason to do it.

But then the writers got down to the business of talking about writing. Both had started out as journalists who had reported on crime stories and both found they were most interested in the ‘why’ of crimes, which tends to get left out of the daily news cycle.

Michael Rowbotham commented on the recent murder-suicide in NSW and how some commentators said that focusing on the reasons why that man took the lives of his family and himself was offering excuses. But Val McDermid said that’s confusing excuse with explanation and the latter is what interests crime writers so much.

She also spoke of a chilling case of life imitating art when she heard of the murder of a missing Welsh girl who bore startling similarities to a fictional character she’d already created, including the girl having the same name as her character.

Val McDermid said she doesn’t think of the reader when she’s writing, but rather writes the best story she can for herself, which was advice that really made sense to me. On working with editors, she likes to be given broad brush strokes, rather than prescriptive advice and said they usually raise issues she already knows are not right with her story.

Michael Rowbotham was very funny on working with an editor, saying he usually went home after meeting them thinking they’re ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’, then moved to ‘they’re not completely wrong’, then ‘they’re right but that’s not how to fix it’ to finally to ‘they’re ‘right but I came up with the solution’. Something I think all writers can relate to. Val McDermid predicted the next big thing in crime writing will be the domestic thriller.

All in all, a very entertaining talk. And for anyone writing a series with the same characters, be careful about giving them pets. You may need to pass the pet to a writing colleague to use in their story if your character decides to move across the Atlantic and can’t take the pet with them.