We have all wanted to murder someone, but most of us don’t succumb to those murderous instincts. Something to do with no laptops in jail. Or that’s what Sophie Hannah and Val McDermid claimed last night at their Manchester Literature Festival event. But they do murder well in their books.
Val described feeling that ‘the bridegroom had to be dead by bedtime’ when dreaming up a new plot, and she did so in a much more Scottish accent than I had anticipated. Don’t know why. The anticipating, I mean. Maybe it’s because Manchester claims her for their own, so she has to be a Mancunian?
Sophie reckoned that women crime writers are more interesting, and they write more devious books than the men who just write about being chased by the FBI and other letters of the alphabet. And she tells a good story, such as the time when she bought a copy of Val’s book twice. It’s what might happen when you sit down next to a Strongbow drinking fan of lesbian fiction on a train.
I could see Sophie and Val mirrored in the large window behind them, which was good because I didn’t see much the normal way, in the very packed Whitworth Art Gallery. We sat in an ivy-papered room, with an exceedingly green feel to it. On leaving we had to walk through an artificial wood in the dark. Whether this had anything to do with what they’d just been saying about late night walks and being scared, I don’t know.
They mentioned the guilt many of us feel on reading crime, because we read it purely for pleasure. It’s slightly ‘better’ if it’s Swedish (of course!) or technical like Patricia Cornwell’s. And they are both critical of the idea that publishers ‘need to have one like that, too’ as soon as a new type of crime novel becomes successful.
There’s the Swedish tidal wave, and there is other foreign stuff which nobody understands, so the author must be a genius. None of them are into cosy crime, where you get recipes or instructions on embroidering bookmarks.
Sophie likes her crime dark, feeling that murder is dark, whereas Val likes humour and claims the Scots even laugh at funerals. Sophie keeps lists of the books she reads, and she has come to realise that her favourite books never win any prizes. She knows she’s right.
We ran out of time long before we ran out of questions, and then it was book signing time, which took place in an exceedingly dark room. But as Val pointed out, ‘it’s never too early for Christmas shopping’. Though I suspect I was the only one bringing a Moomin book to the signing.
Sophie left in a chauffeur driven car, whereas Val walked over to her own car and changed into a more comfortable jacket before driving off into the night. I know this not because I was stalking them, but because my own ‘chauffeur’ was a little late, so I had nothing better to do than watch everybody else.