Thursday, December 10, 2020

Writing Through the Pandemic

(Editor’s note: The following article comes from Fraser Massey, a freelance journalist living in East London​, England, who has contributed work in the past to British periodicals such as The Radio Times, Now, and The Times of London. His unpublished first novel, Whitechapel Messiah, was shortlisted last year in the “New Voices” category at London’s Capital Crime Festival. He’s currently preparing to submit that manuscript to publishers.)

Scottish thriller writer Susi Holliday launched a spirited defense of crime fiction this week in the face of doomsayers, who’ve predicted that all of the real-life suffering and tragedies experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic will put people off wanting to read about made-up deaths. “Just because it’s all dark and miserable out in the world,” she told an audience of British crime lovers gathered via Facebook, “I’m not going to suddenly just say I’m going to read romance all the time … What you like to read, I think, is what you like to read. And if you like to read crime, you’ll always read crime.”

Holliday, whose latest novel, The Last Resort (Thomas & Mercer), was published only at the start of this month and already tops Amazon U.S.’s technothrillers best-sellers chart, was speaking as part of an all-female panel hosted by First Monday Crime, the popular, monthly, London-based discussion series celebrating all things murder and mayhem.

“Maybe you might chop and change a little bit about what you read for a little while,” she conceded, “But I think you’ll always go back to crime.”

The Last Resort is Holliday’s seventh novel, but only the second to be released under the byline Susi Holliday. She had published previously as S.J.I. Holliday (The Damselfly, Violet, etc.).

Her optimistic views on the loyalty of crime-fiction readers were echoed by the rest of this last Monday’s panelists: Sam Carrington, Deborah Masson, and A.K. “Alison” Turner.

Carrington, whose new psychological thriller, The Open House (Avon), is scheduled for publication today, December 10, contended that “As long as you’re not writing about COVID deaths, we might be alright—that’s a little close to home. … There’s still a fascination for all of these dark things, and [crime fiction is] all about the dark secrets and things that you’re going to unearth, and puzzles as well … I couldn’t write romance anyway; [my characters] would end up dying.”

Turner’s thriller Body Language (Zaffre UK)—a spin-off from two short stories she wrote for BBC Radio 4—was published on November 26. She told First Monday viewers that the realities of this year’s fast-spreading coronavirus crisis were brought home to her while she was researching details surrounding the work of Cassie Raven, her Goth-girl mortuary-technician protagonist. “I started getting worried,” said Turner, “when the mortuary technicians that I use massively for research just were too busy to speak to me from about March [on], because they were on double shifts [at work].”

Body Language is the first novel this author has produced as A.K. Turner, after concocting a succession of Brit Noir thrillers under the pen name Anya Lipska (A Devil Under the Skin). She admitted to having struggled to write during Britain’s lockdown conditions. “I found it really, really hard not to be out and about with people,” she explained, “because … that’s the writer’s raw material is how they talk, their little quirks. So to be stuck with just a laptop and desperately trying to dream it up out of nowhere was tough. Thank God for [the videotelephony software] Zoom, because all those mortuary technicians and pathologists I needed to talk to, I was Zooming them very often in their natural habitat, wearing their scrubs, which was kind of weird, but quite interesting.”

Masson, who participated in this panel discussion from her home in Aberdeen, Scotland, admitted it wasn’t just her writing that suffered during lockdown. “My kind of reading and writing mojo [both] went right out of the window … because I was home-schooling. I’ve got a 6-year old and a soon-to-be 11-year-old, so it was a real change to things. I’m lucky enough that I’m at home full-time, so I usually write in pretty much silence when they’re at school. I just find it really hard to write around them.” Fortunately, she added, “I’m reading again and writing again. But I think it’s quite a common thing, from looking on Twitter. … There were many people that say they weren’t reading to the volume they normally were, they were finding writing really difficult. I think [the lockdown] sucked the creativity out of a lot of people.”

Out for Blood (Corgi UK), the sophomore installment in Masson’s Aberdeen-set Detective Inspector Eve Hunter series, is due in bookshops this week. Her previous novel, Hold Your Tongue (2019), won the Glencairn Star Trophy for Scottish Crime Debut of the Year at the Bloody Scotland festival in September.

If you’d like to watch this week’s full, half-hour-long First Monday discussion, simply click here.

First Monday Crime has been a feature of the London literary scene ever since April 2016, with a quartet of different authors appearing each month to talk about crime novels. Until the UK’s COVID-19 restrictions kicked in earlier this year, the events were held primarily at City, University of London, in front of a live audience. But these discussions have has since moved online, with panelists appearing via Zoom and the proceedings being broadcast live on the First Monday Facebook page. The series will be taking a short winter break, but its organizers promise that it will return in February 2021.

No comments: