How to keep thrillers thrilling

Sara Paretsky

They were so colour co-ordinated that they might almost have agreed in advance what to wear. Sara Paretsky was striking in fuchsia and part of Tom Rob Smith’s jumper was the same hue. Or perhaps vivid pink is the current big thing among crime writers.

Their chair, Jackie McGlone, introduced them as briefly as she could, in order to save some of the evening for the actual event. Sara’s books about V I Warshawski have sold ten million copies, and Tom’s novel about a mother going crazy on a Swedish farm, was based on his own Swedish mother who went a little crazy (understandable) on a farm in Sweden.

Sara started by reading the beginning of Critical Mass; the gory part where V I finds the body. Tom read from The Farm, but I’m afraid I don’t remember which bit. I was too interested in Swedes going crazy on farms in the Swedish countryside, which isn’t as nice as it looks.

Jackie wondered how much of their writing is based on true events and people. Lotty is almost Sara’s grandmother, and Tom’s story is a little true, in that his father did actually phone him to say his mother had gone crazy, and then she called to say her husband was conspiring against her. Except it wasn’t quite like that. He’s had to change things in the book.

Sara was interested in whether or not Tom’s mother had read The Farm, seeing how instrumental she was in its conception. She has, and she came to the conclusion he’d made it up…

At nine o’clock the shooting began. It might be part of the Edinburgh Tattoo, but it makes hearing people speak almost impossible in the rest of town. But Sara and Tom soldiered on as best they could. Sara said that V I does what she herself is too chicken to do, with a ‘certain lack of impulse control.’ She discussed V I’s age and that of the dogs and Mr Contreras, not to mention Lotty, who really shouldn’t be in the operating theatre at 85. She’s letting her characters hover where they are, just so she can let them continue. At Sara’s age when people around her are ill or dying, she likes to be in control of her characters, letting those she wants to stay alive do just that.

Tom’s earlier novel Child 44 is about to be released as a film. He has just seen it and reckons it’s very good. Sara, on the other hand, said that the one film made about V I was as far away from her book as it could possibly be. The only good thing about it was that she was allowed to run on Wrigley Field for one evening, when Disney hired it. The men from Hollywood had been surprised to discover that ‘feminism might be commercially viable’ after all.

Sara Paretsky

Neither author believes in writing about mass murderers, and prefer to stay away from real evil. Asked if V I’s controversial ways of working has had an effect on her sales, Sara replied that they have. She gets a lot of mail and she answers all letters except the very worst ones, for which she has a file labelled ‘weirdos, cranks and idiots.’

V I will never be rich, doing pro bono work as she does. But Sara won’t let the dogs starve. Nor was she able to ruin V I’s beautiful new Italian boots in the next book.

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