The Amateur Detective Novelist

On Sunday I attended the tail end of Noirwich, Norwich’s first crime writing festival. I had never been to Norwich before, and I probably would have gone sooner, if only I had opened my Mslexia magazine when it arrived I’d have discovered that the bloody events kicked off on Wednesday.

My friend Elaine has been telling me for years that I should try my hand at writing crime fiction. She writes it herself and often asks me to proof read early drafts of her manuscripts because I’m good at spotting red herrings and unravelling literary puzzles – unfortunately the same can’t be said when it comes to TV and film versions, because I often get confused with who’s who when two or more characters of the same ethnicity, gender and approximate age appear on the screen at the same time.

The thing is – aside from trying to avoid the genre because I didn’t want to tarred as just another stereotypical lesbian mystery writer – I don’t actually know that much about crime fiction. I mean, OK, I’ve watched a fair few film noirs (Bound, Brick, Double Indemnity and most movies starring Humphrey Bogart) plus several series’ of Poirot in a row and, I did once attempt to cowrite a dystopian-lesbian-vegan detective script set in Glasgow during a fictitious third world war – but I’ve only ever read one Agatha Christie novel (and that was last month) and until recently not much else.

Elaine is also a retired procurator fiscal with a late husband who was in the CID, so she has connections stretching all the way from the court room to the rest room of her local police precint, whereas I haven’t got a clue about the law (aside from the stories I heard from my ex-students back in the creative writing class in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution).

Of course, what I’ve realised over the last few weeks, as I’ve been delving into everything from classic pulp fiction to tartan neo-noir, is that I much prefer hardboiled detective novels to police procedurals or cosy murder mysteries; and reading about forensics and post mortems bores me rigid.

So that’s a start I suppose.

At the moment, I’m working on my first assignment of module one, ‘Crime, Mystery And Suspense Writing’ from the distance learning course I’ve signed up to; I’m also trying to figure out who to kill off and who to frame in my novel ‘Kingstreet’ (previously a transgender comedy about a troupe of drag kings who enter a Glaswegian LGBT talent contest), because after seven years of cutting and tweaking and trying to get the story lines right I’ve decided to lose the whole plot and recast my narrator as an accidental amateur detective who just happens to be transsexual.

Personally I think there’s a lot of mileage in using things like false beards and spirit gum. Old Agatha seemed to think so anyway, and she’s still a best seller.

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10 thoughts on “The Amateur Detective Novelist

    1. Yes there were, john. But I noticed agatha christie had one of her murderers using spirit gum and a false beard and I thought oh can use this. The drag kings and their competition will still be very much part of the novel just not the be all and end all.

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  1. I agree about characters in detective TV series and films who look vaguely similar. Episodes of TV detective series have an annoying habit of introducing all the characters in fairly rapid succession.

    It’s also a problem in old black and white films where everyone wears similar clothing. In “The Big Sleep” there’s a scene where Carmen has a different hairstyle and so I ran out of visual cues with which to identify her. So when Mona Mars appears at the end when Marlowe wakes up in the garage, I thought that was supposed to be Carmen again.

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