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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Worcestershire Literary Festival - Our Illustrious Crime Panel

The scene was set in St John’s Library, Worcester, for an enjoyable evening spent in the company of four, fairly new, crime authors for Worcester Literary Festival’s Illustrious Crime Panel. Chaired by local girl Cally Taylor (C L Taylor), author of The Accident and The Lie, Sarah Hilary, author of Someone Else’s Skin, for which she has been nominated for Crime Novel of the Year at Harrogate and No Other Darkness, Clare Mackintosh, who’s debut novel I Let You Go, is a Times Best Seller and is one of the current Richard and Judy Book Club Reads, and Alex Marwood, author of The Wicked Girls, who has been awarded an Edgar award and has Steven King’s endorsement on the front cover. 

The authors were ready, the pick and mix was being politely passed around the room, under the eagle eyes of the authors, who wanted it returned before they started the event, and the audience primed, ready to hear about the world of psychological thrillers, before asking their own questions of the visiting authors. The event started with the obligatory selfie.

The author’s all introduced themselves, with Clare Mackintosh talking about her life as a police officer, and her time spent as a Riot Commander, before leaving the force to look after her young children and write a book; Alex Marwood was a journalist, working on The Independent, Cally Taylor wrote two chick lit books first and then wrote her first psychological thriller  while taking part in a mad 100,000 words in a 100 days challenge and then The Lie was written while on maternity leave, plotting in her head throughout all those night feeds and Sarah Hilary who writes her crime thrillers without the aid of a police consultant advisor (much to the horror of Claire Mackintosh)!

There was a short discussion on the topic of women writers, typically expected to write chick lit book, however many more women are now exploring the darker side of psychological thrillers, making the literary move from chick lit to what is being lovingly entitled ‘domestic noir’. The authors did suggest that the chick lit genre explored fears but left the reader with their happy ever after, whereas this new genre gives the reader more satisfaction with a meatier story and an ending which keeps the reader gripped right to the end.

Clare Mackintosh has always enjoyed writing and in her time as a serving policewoman, enjoyed writing witness statements and reports, ensuring that the victims got to tell their story in court. She has a wealth of experience which she brings to her writing, having been in contact with many walks of life from the homeless through to royalty, couple this with the paranoia linked to motherhood and she has a great base from which to write.  She has said that she felt, until she read Sarah Hilary’s first novel, that there were not many police characters who felt authentic and that DI Marnie Rome was one of the best fictional detectives around.

Sarah Hilary has always found it difficult to write strong female characters but after the discovery of flash fiction she hit the mark with DI Marni Rose. She has found a love of writing closed environments  with one book being set in a  women refuge and tackles hard hitting topics including domestic violence.  She also has a love for television dramas including the popular Broadchurch.

Alex Marwood loves to explore how people can live after doing something bad – she was a journalist during the Jamie Bulger incident, which gave an insight into the public’s perception of crimes against children and the press’ response and was also fascinated by the Christopher Jefferies fiasco, where the police and  public’s perception of a person led to an incorrect arrest.  Alex Marwood has found it difficult to shrug off her journalistic background, after which she decided on the pen name Alex Marwood. I was surprised to find that she often asks advice off her pal, in her words ‘author of filthy bonkbusters’ Rebecca Chance! She also said that the American audience take her much more seriously and comparing the two audiences, American’s don’t like any swearing whereas the UK audience were in uproar when she killed a dog in the book, which was done discreetly and not part of the main story.

Cally Taylor’s thrillers are partly autobiographical, with her love of breaking bad and the sopranos providing many other possible story ideas. but she surprised the other authors with her meticulous planning process. She has, in the past, plotted the whole emotional arc which will structure her book. This is completely different to both Marwood and Mackintosh who don’t give their publishers a detailed synopsis until they have written about two thirds of the book and Sarah Hilary compares her planning process looks like a science project with post it notes everywhere.

Clare Mackintosh and Sarah Hilary have both been chosen as Richard and Judy Book Club reads, which they acknowledged was a great achievement. Mackinstosh found out in the middle of Marks and Spencers she had been chosen for this Summer’s list, while out shopping with her children, and her publisher told her to go and buy some lucky knickers!! The power of Richard and Judy’s bookclub is evident. Richard and Judy were on BBC1’s One Show talking about this year’s chosen titles and mentioned three of the titles, including Macintosh’s ‘I Let You Go’ and the following day she was delighted to find that she reached number one on Amazon, with the other titles also shooting up the charts.  Mackintosh also told the audience about her interesting way of writing scenes, for which she thanks her mother, who ensured she leant how to touch type, enabling her to close her eyes while writing her novels, and watch the story play out in front of her eyes.  Mackintosh also told how she wrote her first novel, submitted it to her publisher, who made an offer, which she then, on the advice of her agent, turned down and started again on what was to become a Times Bestseller I Let You Go. This seems to be a pattern for Mackintosh as she recently finished the first draft of her second book, which she gave to her agent, who read it and wasn’t sure, neither was Clare and they decided to scrap it and now Mackintosh has started again with a completely different idea – it all sounds very exciting, set on the London Underground

Cally Taylor is a local girl, with some of her family still living around Worcester, although she has relocated to Bristol. Her mother was in the audience and was able to ask a question which she admitted she had never thought to ask her daughter..  Cally also talked about one of the highlights of her career was when Home for Christmas, an early book by Taylor, being made into a film by an independent movie producer, and it was set in the actual cinema that Taylor had set the book in.  Although it was wasn’t a blockbuster, she loved seeing it on the big screen and both she and her family had a walk on, extras part in the movie. Cally also divulged that she completely changed the killer in one book after she had finished writing the first draft but likes to give the readers lots of red herrings and rounded characters.

The final question was asked by fellow author Meg Sanders, who wanted to know, if the police were to take your laptop and search it, what is the weirdest thing they would find on it? The answers were weird and wonderful, and of course I can’t divulge their secrets – although Alex likes tartan kilts and Clare is fascinated by the Underground.


I have reviewed many of Meg Sander's books, which she has co-written under the psuedoymn Annie Sanders, on this blog and we have missed each other at the last two ChipLit Festivals, so it was lovely to finally meet her and here is the obligatory photograph.

The event was fantastically organised by Worcester Literary Festival team, the setting was perfect, small and intimate, but did not feel cramped or uncomfortable. There was lots of interaction between the authors and the audience and following last year’s Romance panel event (organised by Alison May) I look forward to seeing what is in store next year. I also loved the opportunity to meet up with author Meg Sanders, following two missed oppurtunities at Chipping Norton Literary Festival, who has written lots of great books as one half of the partnership Annie Sanders.

Thank you to Martin Driscoll, festival director, for offering both myself and my husband a complimentary ticket in return for an honest review.