I had the nicest time at the Bloody Scotland crime fiction festival. Got to meet some lovely people, including my Air BnB hosts (who entertained me spectacularly, especially on the last night when we sampled quite a lot of GnT!) and the three lovely authors – Shona Maclean, Elaine Thomson and Kaite Welsh – who were on a panel with me. I think people always imagine that authors are in competition with each other but that hasn’t been my experience at all. Without my authorly friends, writing would be a horribly lonely and discouraging road.
One of the highlights of the festival for me – apart from appearing myself! – was seeing Ann Cleeves in conversation with actor Douglas Henshall about the Shetland TV series. The hall was packed; largely a testament to the power of television I think. People come to books via TV series far more often than the other way around and an author’s sales can be sent into the stratosphere by being adapted for the small screen. And, of course, TV series set in a particular location can be influential to the place that hosts them, too. I know that the Shetland tourist board must be incredibly grateful to Ann for the boost she’s given the islands just at the time when the oil industry is beginning to decline. (And there are Hinterland tours in north Ceredigion. It makes you think…)
Listening to Ann and Douglas talk about the different processes of creating a believable world on the page and on screen, I was struck by something Ann Cleeves said about the relative importance of plot and story. Asked whether the next Jimmy Perez book (on which the Shetland series is based) really would be the last she said that it would, because she feels that she has said all she has to say about life on Shetland and doesn’t want to go on simply telling murder-based stories which have no depth in terms of the society of the islands. And I know exactly what she means. Plot is a device to hook your readers and keep them reading but, if it’s not underpinned by real issues and psychological depth, it’s thin stufff and I, personally, don’t like either reading or writing books that are all plot and no substance. Ann used a lovely metaphor – Plot, she said, is like a corset, it holds me up and keeps me going so I can write about all the other things I want to write about.
I completely agree. One of the things I don’t want to do with the Teifi Valley Coroner series is to portray ever-more lurid murder. I’ve made Harry Probert-Lloyd a coroner because that means he investigates ALL sudden and unexplained deaths. Any or all may be murder but that’s the joy of these books – some will turn out to be something else – suicide, accident, manslaughter in self-defence, Act of God – whatever. But the real interest should lie in the circumstances around the death. Who might have killed this person and why? What kind of person were they and what might have motivated somebody to do them harm? What secrets were they hiding?
Because there are always secrets.